The two men stood glaring at each other from across the ring in their corners. Celebrities surrounded them like vultures, ready to scatter away from whoever lost that night to whoever won. Whether they were there to be seen or do the seeing didn’t really matter. They were celebrities, and they were there because this was the place to be tonight.
This was the fight of a generation: two great fighters who were finally going to meet in the middle of the ring to decide who was the better man.
Nothing is bigger than a superfight.
Millions of people from around the world huddled around their television sets that night in restless anticipation of witnessing what was about to happen. The referee delivered the final instructions to the fighters while they stood staring at each other in the middle of the ring.
The time was here. Were they wondering to themselves how the next 36 minutes of fighting would go?
The two were separated for one final time. They nervously bounced around in their corners and paced back and forth in eagerness for the coming battle. The moment had finally arrived. The bell rang, and the two men headed toward their destinies.
But Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao did little else on the evening other than lining their own pocketbooks with millions of dollars they don’t even really need at this point in their careers. The fight itself was dull. It was a high-speed game of tag, and after the contest was over, all there was left to do was a bunch of counting.
The judges counted up their scores for the bout: Mayweather won a unanimous decision. The CompuBox people counted up the number of times each fighter dared to throw a power punch: too few of them to say the least.
And Mayweather and Pacquiao counted up all the dollars they pocketed by bilking over four million souls out there of their hard-earned money for something that was supposed to be the fight of the century.
It wasn’t. Mayweather-Pacquiao wasn’t even the best fight of the last 25 years, much less 100. What a shame.
But June 17 marks the 15th anniversary of a superfight that did live up to expectations. Oscar De La Hoya met “Sugar” Shane Mosley at the Staples Center on June 17, 2000.
The fight wasn’t just a historically important bout between two of the era’s best fighters. It was, as described by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Hoffer, “a stirring bout that ennobled both fighters,” one which defined that generation’s “standard-bearer” for pugilism.
De La Hoya-Mosley didn’t just live up to the tremendous amount of hype a superfight generates. It exceeded it.
A Long Time in the Making
The first time De La Hoya and Mosley fought each other they were only children. De La Hoya, age 11, and Mosley, age 12, stood in the center of the ring and threw punches at each other as hard as 75-pound middle school-aged kids can throw them.
The two fought as many as 60 rounds against each other as amateurs over their stalwart careers in the USA Boxing system. De La Hoya won two national titles, along with a gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. Mosley was a three-time national champion and a thorn in De La Hoya’s side, handing East Los Angeles’ best amateur two of his five total losses.
But Mosley missed out on the Olympics after Vernon Forrest knocked him out of the Olympic Trials, so while the two were similar stars before 1992, De La Hoya took over as the lead fighter after his excellent performance in the Olympics.
The two California kids, East L.A.’s De La Hoya and Pomona’s Mosley, were perhaps destined to have intertwining careers. They were boxing’s best and brightest stars in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They met as professionals, both fighting at their peaks, 16 years after their first encounter as adolescents. De La Hoya was age 27. Mosley was 28.
Dubbed “Destiny” by the fight’s promoters, De La Hoya-Mosley was the perfect superfight. It came along at the exact right time in both men’s careers. There was no six years of waiting for these two to square off against each other. It was simply a bout between two outstanding professionals at their best, two men willing to challenge themselves against the very best competition of their time, each man giving it his all for 12 passionate rounds.
Unlike boxing’s most recent superfight, Mayweather-Pacquiao, as well as a host of other letdowns throughout the sport’s long history, De La Hoya-Mosley delivered the goods where it mattered most: inside the ring on fight night.
HBO commentator Larry Merchant perfectly set the stage before the first bell rang. “Who will dare to be great?” he asked the audience before the two collided center stage. And by the end of things, we had been given our answer.
“Both of them daring to be great!” Merchant exclaimed in jubilation.
Mosley defeated De La Hoya that night by a narrow but well-earned split decision to win De La Hoya’s WBC welterweight title. Two judges at ringside scored the bout for Mosley, 116–112 and 115–113, while the third had De La Hoya the winner at 115–113. HBO's unofficial ringside scorer, Harold Lederman, saw a Mosley win at 116-112.
Mosley considers it his best performance.
“It was the biggest fight of my career and probably my best win,” Mosley told Bleacher Report. “Both guys were at the top of their games, myself and Oscar, and I did a number on him. I was happy.”
Mosley put his stamp on the early rounds with fast hands and faster feet. He set the tone for the fight by being first and last to swing when the two engaged, which was often, and he used his incredible speed to offset De La Hoya’s excellent timing.
But by the middle rounds, De La Hoya’s famed left hook was starting to make its mark. While both fighters were a similar size as amateurs, De La Hoya had tarried longer as a professional welterweight when the two met in 2000 than longtime lightweight champion Mosley. Perhaps this was the reason De La Hoya so desperately tried to press the action, even when Mosley remained undeterred.
“I wasn’t intimidated by his size or anything because I knew I was pretty much the same size as he was. He just had moved up the ranks faster than me and had the notoriety of winning the gold medal.”
Mosley said the key to the bout was something he discovered very early in the fight during a clinch.
“In the beginning, I hit him a few times, and when we clinched I felt that I was a lot stronger than him. I was surprised I was that much stronger than him. I kind of lifted him up and walked him around a little bit. I felt his strength then, and I felt that I was faster and also stronger as well.”
Adversity struck mid-fight when Mosley said his back started to tighten up on him. So not only did the undefeated former lightweight have to contend with a vicious punching welterweight who had begun to make his mark on Mosley’s chin and body, but he had to do it while fighting through a stiff back.
The result was a slower Mosley, one easier for De La Hoya to land hooks and jabs upon. The momentum had swung back to De La Hoya.
Ultimately, Mosley said the fight was won on guts and determination.
“I wanted it more from the beginning. I started out pretty fast. My back tightened up on me a little bit so I slowed down just so my back could relax a little bit. I believed I was faster [than him], at least my feet were a lot faster. His hand speed is pretty quick as well so we both had about the same hand speed. But I felt like my punching speed was a lot faster.”
Mosley won the championship rounds, rounds 10 through 12, with what he termed “punching speed” or flurries of volume punching to make certain the judges saw things going his way. But make no mistake about these flurries. Both men that night were not merely trying to hit for singles and doubles the way Mayweather and Pacquiao seemed to do for all 12 rounds of their bout against each other in May.
De Le Hoya and Mosley were swinging for the fences.
The fight was as close as the final punch stats suggest. Mosley had the overall edge in the fight, landing 284 of 678 thrown punches as opposed to De La Hoya's 257 of 718 totals. Moreover, Mosley landed 174 of 304 thrown power punches, a 57 percent success rate. De La Hoya landed 165 power punches of his own but at only a 37 percent success rate.
"It was a slugfest," De La Hoya said after the fight, per Hoffer. "Fun for everybody."
The loss affected De La Hoya greatly. After losing on the cards to Felix Trinidad the year prior in a fight many believe, including the Sweet Science’s Frank Lotierzo, he should have won, the close loss to Mosley had the Golden Boy considering retirement for a time.
In fact, De La Hoya didn’t even fight again until the next year.
But De La Hoya rebounded to become one of the most successful, if not spectacular, prizefighters in history. He went on to defeat the likes of Arturo Gatti, Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga. He became one of the richest and most successful fighters of all time.
Moreover, he continually challenged himself in his fighting career to face the very best, facing Mosley again in 2003, vying for the middleweight title against Bernard Hopkins in 2004 and ultimately facing next generation superstars Mayweather and Pacquiao in 2007 and 2008.
Mosley enjoyed a similar fate. He defeated De La Hoya in the rematch but wasn’t nearly as brilliant as he was in the first fight. Many observers believed the bout should have gone to De La Hoya, and the event was later tainted by Mosley’s admitted use of EPO for a short time before the fight.
But Mosley challenged himself as a fighter too. He lost twice to Forrest at welterweight in 2002, a tall (6'0"), lanky fighter who just seemed to have Mosley’s number, and twice to junior middleweight champion Winky Wright two years later.
In the setbacks, though, Mosley displayed probably his best characteristic as a fighter. Neither Forrest nor Wright were men the smallish Mosley matched up all that well against. But he didn’t care. He took the fights anyway, and when he lost them, he took immediate rematches to try again.
Mosley was as resilient as they come, and the only reason we know that about him is because, like De La Hoya, he pushed himself to his limits.
Mosley defeated the likes of Vargas, Mayorga and Antonio Margarito for late-career glory. He suffered losses to Mayweather (2010) and Pacquiao (2011) the same as De La Hoya, along with late-career losses fighting well above his natural weight to Canelo Alvarez (2012) and Anthony Mundine (2013).
Both men are currently retired from boxing, though as is the case with most prizefighters, both have at various times seemed interested in returning to the ring. De La Hoya is 42. Mosley is 43. Neither should probably make the leap back to the ring, though.
De La Hoya is the founder and president of Golden Boy Promotions, one of the industry leaders in boxing. Mosley currently trains his son, Shane Mosley Jr., along with several other fighters and has various other business interests outside of the sport.
But after watching Mayweather-Pacquiao last month and rewatching De La Hoya-Mosley, one has to wonder how this generation’s greatest welterweights, Mayweather and Pacquiao, would have fared against the prime versions of De La Hoya and Mosley.
Mosley wonders too. But such must be the fate of all fighters who suffer losses to other great champions after their best years have come and gone. There’s simply no way to come to a definitive conclusion on the matter.
Regardless, there’s no mistaking which of the pair put on the better superfight. De La Hoya-Mosley was everything a superfight should be. It was an action-packed slugfest between two highly skilled fighters trying to knock each other out.
Mayweather-Pacquiao was nothing of the sort.
“The difference is that the fighters of my era fought with heart. We fought with a lot of skill, but also a lot of heart. These fighters fight for points. They want to score points and win the fight on points. They run around the ring, hold and do all these different things because they aren’t trying to knock people out. I mean, when Muhammad Ali was fighting, he was running around the ring, but he was actually trying to knock the guy out in whatever round he called.”
De La Hoya and Mosley, arguably their generation's two biggest stars, were trying to knock each other out in every round of the fight. So why weren’t Mayweather and Pacquiao?
“We were warriors, man. They’re not warriors. I don’t know. There’s just a difference in the eras. Before, we fought with heart and determination, and now they’re fighting with—I don’t know what they’re fighting with.”
Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem quite the same stuff De La Hoya and Mosley fought each other with 15 years ago. Whatever it is, boxing would be much better off getting back to that.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and information were obtained firsthand. De La Hoya could not be reached for comment.